Camping has always been a super important part of my life. While I was growing up, one of the few constants was the annual camping trip I took with my family for 2 weeks in Algonquin Park. It has changed a bit over the years and we have taken a couple summers off for various reasons, but years of this trip has instilled a strong love for the outdoors in me. It has also given me countless hilarious memories and stories to tell! Since I am heading out for another camping adventure this week, I wanted to look back and share some of the things I remember from all those days hanging out with my crazy family, exploring the provincial parks, and enjoying an escape from the world.
The first story that comes into my mind is about the bear. I should warn you, this is about the most boring story about a bear you will ever hear in your life. This story happened when I was fairly young, definitely not a teenager yet and possibly still in the single digits. You’ll have to forgive my horrible timeline curation with all these stories; the years kind of blur together. Anyways, I was still quite young and I was particularly excited by this trip because not only was my family coming but also my best friends and their families. I couldn’t wait to show them my favourite spots around the park. We were staying in Lake of Two Rivers Campground in Algonquin Park, which is pretty far from roughing it. There are showers and indoor plumbing and it’s right along the highway so wildlife is scarce (except chipmunks). A perfect playground for a couple of goofy kids!
One night, we were all around the campfire and about to head to bed when we noticed that there were some park rangers driving by regularly. No one near us was being loud or rowdy with their campfire, so we were a little confused. Then, out of the darkness, a lone ranger comes up to our site and tells us that there has been a bear sighted near the campground and to please pack up all remotely edible things (from food to toothpaste to beer) into the vehicles to avoiding luring it closer to where people were staying. We were told not to worry, everyone was on top of things, and they expected to have it captured and relocated by morning.
My friend and I lost our damn minds. You have to understand that this campground was my safe place. It’s where I considered myself to have grown up and it was special to me. And now some crazed blood-thirsty bear was tearing through it, devouring people? Nevermind what that ranger said, clearly my life, the life of everyone I loved, and all I held dear was in mortal danger! We both burst into tears and buried ourselves in our mom’s laps for protection. Eventually, since we were being so loud and we acting so terrified, they had to sit with us locked in the van in order to not wake the whole campground and feel safe. I don’t really remember how that night ended, but my mom says I basically cried myself dry and fell asleep out of pure exhaustion.
The best part? My other best friend went to bed early that night and slept through it all! Not to mention the giant crockpot of chilli that was cooking right next to her tent, completely forgotten about!
This next story isn’t technically a camp story, but it involves almost as much panic and tears as the first. This was actually at my aunt and uncle’s cottage. My cousin, friend, who I invited, and I decided we wanted to go see a movie. My cousin was the only one who could drive, so we loaded up in my parent’s van, plugged the address into her parent’s GPS, and took off with plenty of time to get there. I honestly don’t even remember what movie we wanted to see so much. I do remember that this theatre was a bit farther away but was supposed to have a mini-movie museum and memorabilia collection, so it was worth the drive.
We headed out of cottage country and onto the highway. Then we got off the highway onto a smaller country road. Then the GPS told us to turn down a rather narrow looking path. We didn’t like the look of that, so we passed it, hoping the GPS would recalculate and send us down a less sketchy way. 45 minutes later, we were back at that turnoff, having just been taken on a huge loop through the woods! We figured that the road must just be a bit overgrown but fine to drive on. Oh, how wrong we were.
The deeper we went down this road, the worse it got. It had rained recently and there were whole sections that were flooded. Add in the gigantic rocks that littered the road, it was a very bumpy drive. The woods got thicker and there were fewer and fewer signs of civilization. I don’t know why we didn’t turn back, but I think by the time the big red flags were showing, we felt like we were in too deep to turn back. We also couldn’t turn around if we wanted to since the road went through alternating thick woods and along the top of ravines. At one point we saw a sign that said BEWARE BIG BLACK BEARS. I think that’s when the hysterics came on.
We had no idea what to do. For about an hour, we tried to stick it out because the GPS said we would turn off the road soon. But there must have been two identical roads meeting because there was no turnoff but there were several metres of water of indiscernible depth. It was starting to get dark and we were beginning to notice how little service we could get on our phones. Finally, I was able to get a signal if I put my phone really low to the ground in the backseat. My cousin called her dad’s phone and asked for some serious help. We were all so panicked at this point, that why they answered the phone, they thought we had gotten into a car crash. We finally were able to explain what happened and give them our GPS coordinates. Several tense, dark hours later, they pull up on the other side of the flooding that stopped us earlier. My cousin’s dad/my uncle got out and somehow managed to get the van turned around and got us back out. Needless to say, he was not thrilled with our lapse in judgement about the path and we didn’t make it to the show.
On the plus side, I was so shaken when I got back to the cottage that my mom let me and my friend have a very weak screwdriver each to calm our nerves!
Here’s another one. One year my older cousin volunteered to take me and my other two (second) cousins to pick blueberries on our bicycles. She is about 7ish years older than me, the next oldest was 4ish years older, and the youngest was 2ish years younger. Between the four of us, I was by far the weakest biker and the younger boy was as full of beans as any 13-year-old, so his poor older brother was tasked with riding behind me to make sure I didn’t fall behind while the other two biked as hard as they wanted.
It was a great idea in theory, but my lack of leg muscle was still underestimated. I could not keep up with our little caravan and told my escort so. He said that’s okay and we could turn back. The rest of the team was just around the next bend, or so I thought, so we just yelled that we’re going back, and then did so. It was a much more relaxed ride since I wasn’t trying madly to keep up with anyone. I even remember at one point hearing some rustling in the leaves ahead, getting off our bikes to walk quietly, and getting to stand around 2 feet away from a deer grazing in the trees.
However, a little while later, after we’d been relaxing back at the site for the afternoon, our chaperone returned in a panic. Apparently, they were much farther ahead than us on the trail and did not hear our warnings that we were going back to the site. She was fully ready to tell my mother that her daughter had been lost in the woods on a trail that borders a highway for long stretches. She was very relieved to see me but also very angry that we just took off without making absolutely sure that she knew where we were going. She wasn’t even impressed by the deer story!
Here’s a short one. My younger cousin, the speedster from the previous story, and I had a bit of a rivalry when we were growing up. It was always a contest to get into the lake first or to prove who was the better camper. My uncle, the hero from two stories back, was always willing to help us learn skills to make us better campers and we made that into a competition too. It wasn’t an all-out war, but you just knew who earned the bragging rights at the end of the day. It went back and forth: I would help build a fire but then his canoeing earned him the nickname Captain. I was jealous, so I demanded my uncle and I go canoeing that evening on the river. Halfway through the trip, I notice there is a spider on my leg. I’m not the most squeamish when it comes to spiders, but I wasn’t happy. I tried to calmly tell my uncle what was happening while simultaneously trying to flick the stowaway out of the boat. Apparently, during that minor panic, my uncle was certain I was going to flip out and tip us into the river. He was very proud of me after that, for keeping calm and doing what I needed to, and I got to be super smug in front of my cousin!
Another spider story and this one is even shorter. For some of the years, my parents couldn’t make the trip so I would go without them and bunk with my aunt. One night we were partaking in some post-campfire reading by flashlight. I happened to look over at her and notice a daddy long leg walking across her chest. As far as I remember I bolted up and exclaimed: “OH MY GOD THERE’S A SPIDER ON YOU!” But my aunt recalls me stating that sentence in the most monotone voice as if I was warning her that her bookmark had fallen. Even when asked if she had succeeded in swishing the spider away with her book, I just said “No” as deadpan as could be. Apparently, I’m good at putting on a poker face when it comes to eight-legged guests!